What’s in Your Wheelhouse?

We’ve all been there. In fact, we’re all probably still “there” to some extent, at least on occasion. In business and in life, there are just some things we love to do and some things we abhor—even if we’re good at them.

Take me, for example. On the domestic front, the laundry and I just don’t get along. Never have, never will. Can I do the laundry? Sure, but I do it begrudgingly. If it can be avoided, it will be. Put me in a store, though, on the trail of the next big bargain or on the hunt for something hard-to-find or hard-to-get, and I’m all over it. If there’s a yard to be tended, I’m there, too.

BOM Wheelhouse

On the business front, I’m a people person. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, nothing gets my gears going more than “shaking hands and kissing babies.” But tie me to a desk, pouring over emails or staring at computer code all day, and my energy and enthusiasm levels fade fast. It’s not that I can’t do it or won’t do it—I’m actually quite good at crunching numbers, analyzing reports, and cracking the mysteries of computer code—but it’s just not something I look forward to or gain energy from.

You probably experience times when everything seems to go right. You feel good, your energy is high, and the results or experiences you most desired just keep coming in. Whether you realize it or not, chances are you are operating within your wheelhouse—leveraging your strengths, preferences, and gifts and doing things you enjoy and that you are good at.

Conversely, you probably experience times when nothing seems to go right. From relationships to business arrangements, the results just aren’t there and every moment is a struggle. When this happens, you’re most likely either operating outside of your wheelhouse or choosing not to do something that needs doing because you do not like to do it.

My experience is that activities—whether personal or professional, from business deals and projects to relationships—that are not aligned with what’s in our individual wheelhouses tend to fail. For whatever reason, we avoid these activities even if we know we should do them, because either we don’t like them, they drain our energy, or we’re just not good at them.

Yet we all know that sometimes you just have to do some things you don’t like, whether it’s pouring over a stack of boring business reports or spending a night at the opera (or the opposite, if these activities are in your wheelhouse). Does this mean then, ultimately, we are doomed to fail at something that doesn’t play to our strengths?


As entrepreneurs and individuals, we benefit from knowing what our strengths are (not what we “wish” they were, but a realistic assessment!). Armed with this knowhow, when a challenge or opportunity presents itself, we can craft a solution that aligns with what’s in our wheelhouse, rather than one at odds with it. If we do that, chances are we’ll be more apt to engage, follow-through, and achieve the success we want. Otherwise, we’ll experience starts and stops, and lots of initiatives and relationships that simply seem to go nowhere fast or wither on the vine.

Sure, there will be times when our strengths and preferences won’t be enough, when what we’d like to be doing doesn’t match up with what needs to be done. In that case, should you just put your head down and plow forward anyway, hoping for the best, even though you know your head and your heart are just not into it? Or should you simply ignore what you know is the right strategy or tactic and go ahead with what you like to do best anyway, hoping the results will be there regardless of the approach you take?

Certainly, there must be another way.

There is. In fact, there are several:

  • Come up with another approach—one that plays to your strengths and preferences. There is often more than one way to achieve a goal. So rather than developing strategies that rely on activities you do not like and will avoid, focus on solutions/approaches that lie within your wheelhouse. For example, if you hate cold calling, don’t embark on a sales strategy that relies solely on cold calling. If you don’t like public speaking, don’t embark on a regional tour of chambers of commerce, trying to pitch your business concept. If you’re idea of a fun date night is “dinner and drinks” at a local eatery, don’t suggest a trip to the local art museum. You get the idea.
  • Learn to enjoy those things that currently drain your energy . . . or at least tolerate them. That’s right. Just as you might have overcome a childhood dislike for broccoli or liver (OK, I know that’s a stretch), you can overcome your dislike for a certain activity. Quite often, we don’t like a certain thing because we either don’t know much about it, we haven’t been exposed to it, or we just haven’t dealt with it enough to be proficient. So take a class, read a book, or job shadow someone who likes/excels at a particular activity. You might never add said activity to your list of all-time favorites, but you may be able to turn your need to engage in it from time to time into an asset rather than a liability.
  • If you don’t like doing something or if you avoid doing something you know is necessary to achieve success, then bring someone in who does enjoy that activity. If you hate crunching numbers, find someone who loves it. If you hate keeping your computer technology up-to-date and virus-free, look to someone with those skills in his or her wheelhouse. If cold calling gives you hives, bring a sales person in who can’t get enough of it. If your writing makes Dick and Jane seem like college prose, hire a writer. As an entrepreneur, you may think you have to and you can do it all, but you really don’t and you really can’t. Chances are the added costs of bringing in experts and specialists will pale in comparison to the costs of lost opportunities, poor results, and countless late nights spent banging your head against the wall. (Of course, this approach won’t necessarily help if “ballet night” with the spouse just isn’t your thing. For that, you may have to focus exclusively on Alternatives #1 & #2!)
In his wheelhouse . . . and then some!

Do you find yourself constantly operating outside of your wheelhouse? If so, it’s time to step back and take a look in the mirror.

  • Is an alternative approach the answer for you?
  • Do you need to learn a new skill?
  • Or is the solution simply to bring in an expert to complement your skills and your existing team—or is it all of the above?

Share your thoughts and experiences here.

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HDSA “Celebration of HOPE Gala 2014” October 17

The Huntington’s Disease Society of America San Diego Chapter’s “Celebration of HOPE Gala 2014” is coming up on Friday, October 17, at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. This event features great food and drinks, dancing, an exciting live and silent auction, and talks from Steve Fisher, Head Coach, SDSU Men’s Basketball; Mike McCoy, Head Coach, San Diego Chargers; and Bud Black, Manager, San Diego Padres.

For more information on how you can donate an auction item, sponsor a table, or attend, visit www.hdsa.org/hopegala2014 or contact Stephanie Alband by email at salband@HDSA.org or by phone at 619-225-2255.

HDSA Gala  2014

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All Assumptions Are Not Created Equal

We’re all guilty of assuming. After all, assumptions based on life experiences and common sense can help us to anticipate and be proactive, rather than reactive.

But taking things for granted all of the time, even when we should know better, is where we can get into trouble . . . and the news these days—and how many of us react to the news—seems full of assumptions.

We assume our leaders have all the answers—from fixing the economy and getting a handle on immigration, to waging battles against Ebola and ISIS—but clearly, no one has all the answers. We assume doctors and medicine can fix anything that ails us, or that we can create any new technology we need to make our lives more efficient, or that we can solve all the problems life throws our way.


We should not assume there will always be answers, because, quite frankly, the questions have gotten pretty big and sometimes we don’t even know the question. Life is not a tidy sitcom or TV-drama where issues are resolved in 30- or 60-minutes chunks—where we can “assume” the hero or our favorite characters will triumph or catch the bad person.

In a blog I wrote last year, I stated, “When we get comfortable with a situation (or even apathetic), we can get complacent or ‘lazy’ or indifferent . . . When we assume, we run the risk of hurting our relationships with others, failing at a task, or simply becoming dysfunctional in our day-to-day dealings.”

Now is NOT the time for us to assume anything, or to allow others to take us for granted. Get informed, maximize understanding, and communicate clearly and with transparency. 

Here’s that blog again, in its entirety. Enjoy!

Assume at Your Own Risk

(Originally posted on May 9, 2013)

Don’t Assume. How many times have we heard someone tell us that, whether it’s at home or on the job? There’s usually a second part to that saying, something about “When you assume, you make a (posterior section) out of you and me.”

Seems like sound advice to me.

To “assume” means to take something for granted without proof. I think we assume because it requires less brainpower for us to assume something versus actually having to go out and substantiate it.

To illustrate, remember those “proofs” in trigonometry class? It was always much easier to look at an object and declare it a triangle or rectangle or whatever, than it was to go through the step-by-step process of actually proving it. Life can be a lot like that. When we’re faced with a particular situation, whether it’s at home or on the job, with a co-worker or a loved one, it’s just easier to “assume” the circumstances, motivations, and likely outcomes of the situation based on life experiences. Why bother go through the trouble of fully understanding a situation, when we can just assume (there’s only so much time in the day, right)?

Problem is, when we assume, we often get it wrong. When we assume, we run the risk of hurting our relationships with others, failing at a task, or simply becoming dysfunctional in our day-to-day dealings.

Proof that Assumptions Aren’t Always Correct

I’m not suggesting we go to the extremes of not assuming the sun will come up tomorrow, or not assuming that the bridge over the bay that was there yesterday will be there tomorrow, or that the laws of physics that govern our Universe will suddenly go awry. I am suggesting that in those situations where clear understanding and clear communication is critical, that we NEVER assume anything.

  • Do you need to get certain results from an employee or team at work? Don’t assume he or she (or the entire team) shares your vision or understanding of a particular requirement. Communicate what you want done and by when clearly. Ask questions to ensure that you have been heard and understood.
  • Do you always assume the worst from a given situation? Why? What does experience tell you? Have you ever assumed the worst and gotten the worst? For example, do you fret over running out of money? Have you everrun out of money? While the worst sometimes can happen, chances are the outcomes of most situations will never be the worst possible, and all you’ve done is spent a ton of mental and emotional capital worrying unnecessarily. Don’t assume. Rather, look at the situation objectively and reach conclusions based on facts and likely scenarios.
  • Similarly, don’t assume all is fine. Relationships with friends, spouses, and even business colleagues require constant reinforcement. Take nothing for granted. You can’t just toss seed onto the ground and hope it grows into something bountiful. Likewise, relationships need to be cultivated and nurtured so they grow.
  • Do you assume your child knows and remembers all of the household rules, such as curfews, the “do”s and “don’t”s of when friends can (or can’t) come over, chores, and expectations around homework and studying? Again, don’t assume. Make sure your child knows what you expect. Don’t nag, but also don’t be afraid to remind him or her of the rules. Youngsters typically aren’t focused on the house rules, not with texts, Facebook, friends, and their studies to distract them, but they do need their boundaries.
  • Don’t assume your elected representatives at the local, state, or Federal level know how you think or feel about issues. You might be surprised (or not) at how “out of touch” with constituents our officials can sometimes become (sadly, it’s the nature of the beast). So don’t be afraid to contact their offices and tell them how you feel. At the same time, don’t assume your voice doesn’t matter. Sometimes all it takes is a phone call or email to get an official thinking the same way as you.
  • Don’t assume good health, especially as you get older. This, perhaps, is the most important assumption to overcome. Our bodies, minds, and spirits require constant replenishment, even when we look and feel our best. Get enough sleep, eat right, exercise, and don’t forget to build a little “down time” into your busy schedule. Fun is important, not optional.

When we get comfortable with a situation (or even apathetic), we can get complacent or “lazy” or indifferent. We begin to think that because a certain thing has always been a certain way, it will remain that way; we begin to accept that because a relationship with someone has always been a certain way, the relationship will remain that way as well.

Don’t assume, not if it’s important to you, your job, a friend, or a loved one. Take the time NOT to take something for granted. Make sure you understand a situation fully and then act if/as necessary. The only thing you can assume is that when you assume all of the time, it will eventually cost you.

How has “assuming” cost you? Share your experiences here.

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HDSA “Celebration of HOPE Gala 2014” October 17

The Huntington’s Disease Society of America San Diego Chapter’s “Celebration of HOPE Gala 2014” is coming up on Friday, October 17, at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. This event features great food and drinks, dancing, an exciting live and silent auction, and talks from Steve Fisher, Head Coach, SDSU Men’s Basketball; Mike McCoy, Head Coach, San Diego Chargers; and Bud Black, Manager, San Diego Padres.

For more information on how you can donate an auction item, sponsor a table, or attend, visit www.hdsa.org/hopegala2014 or contact Stephanie Alband by email at salband@HDSA.org or by phone at 619-225-2255.

HDSA Gala  2014

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When Brand Expectations Aren’t Met

Just as we expect the sun to come up tomorrow, or for there to be no one approaching us head-on in our lane when we round a hairpin turn, or that when we toss something up, it will come down, we come to expect certain things from brands.

It’s just like the law of physics. For example, we come to expect certain things from Apple, namely innovative products and cool, user-friendly designs; and from Starbucks, such as trendy coffee selections and great customer experiences. Our expectations of these brands become rooted in our consciousness.

So what happens when a brand that delivers consistently on its promise, fails to deliver?

This past week, most of us—whether we are diehard fans, or just casual observers—got a front row seat courtesy of one of the NFL’s most successful franchises.


No, I’m not talking about my hapless Oakland Raiders, who remain “near and dear” despite failing to make the playoffs since 2002, and barely making it out of their division’s cellar for most of those years. For Oakland, their performance over the past decade plus, ever since Rich Gannon was named MVP in 2002, has pretty much cemented fan expectations of mediocrity: anything above a .500 season would be considered a rousing success . . . and any finish above fourth place would represent real progress.

The brand I’m talking about is the New England Patriots, arguably the most successful NFL franchise of the past decade.

Since 2001, the Patriots have not had a losing record (their average win/loss record during this span has been 12-4), they have not finished below second place in their division, and, oh by the way, they’ve been to the Super Bowl five times, winning it on three occasions. Did I mention their 16-0 record in the 2007 season?

Success like that and the ability to deliver it consistently is bound to create certain expectations among Patriots’ fans, and it’s the same story for customers (or “fans”) of any brand. You come to expect certain behaviors or attributes or outcomes related to the brand—in this case, we know it as the “Patriot Way”—and when those expectations are not met, the seeds of dissatisfaction are sewn.

So it was no surprise after New England’s 41-14 drubbing at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs, which came on the heels of an uninspiring victory the week before over (ironically) the Oakland Raiders, that New England fans began to wonder, “What’s wrong with the Patriots?” And it wasn’t just diehard fans that were affected.

I don’t think I’m overstating it when I say the effects of New England’s out-of-character/off-brand performance were felt far and wide beyond NFL fandom. As though the sky was falling, from coast-to-coast, every sports segment, whether online, on TV, on the radio, or in print, ran some sort of story on New England’s sub-par performance. Unless you were living under a rock, you could not escape it.

  • New England’s Hall-of Fame bound quarterback came under fire: “Is Tom Brady too old?” “Is he washed up?” “Is he unhappy in New England?”
  • Was ownership nickel and diming payroll so much that it had weakened the team, especially the offensive line, to the point where it could no longer compete?
  • Was the “Patriot Way” finally over? Had it all been a big sham?
  • Even the wisdom of Bill Belichick, one of the NFL’s winningest and longest tenured coaches, was questioned.

With an impressive 43-17 takedown this week of the previously undefeated Cincinnati Bengals, the Patriots seem to have found their way again. At least for this week, they met customer expectations—they delivered on their brand promise—and all seems right with the world (as for my Oakland Raiders, they were off last week, so no harm no foul).

Tom Snyder: Defining Brand – Expectations of a Customer Experience

What messages does your brand send to your customers and prospects?

  • Do you meet or exceed expectations consistently and without fail?
  • Is your product or service consistently of high quality?
  • Is it delivered on-time, every time?
  • Is pricing in line with customer expectations?
  • Can customers find you/your product easily and conveniently?
  • Do you offer customer service second-to-none?

These past few weeks we caught a glimpse of what happens when a great brand fails to deliver. For more than a decade, the New England Patriots have demonstrated a high standard of success and consistent performance. But when that success faltered—just for a few weeks—the brand suffered. The lesson learned is that no brand is too big to fail: with high expectations, comes great responsibility for a brand to deliver.

For parts of the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and right up until 2002, Oakland had a string of success nearly as great as New England’s current run. Every year during that span, the Raiders were one of the top teams to watch, while New England’s performance was more akin to the Raiders of today. It just goes to show that a brand’s story is never cast in stone. Branding work is never done. To stay at the top, requires constant reinforcement and an unfailing determination to deliver on your brand’s promise.

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HDSA “Celebration of HOPE Gala 2014” October 17

The Huntington’s Disease Society of America San Diego Chapter’s “Celebration of HOPE Gala 2014” is coming up on Friday, October 17, at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. This event features great food and drinks, dancing, an exciting live and silent auction, and talks from Steve Fisher, Head Coach, SDSU Men’s Basketball; Mike McCoy, Head Coach, San Diego Chargers; and Bud Black, Manager, San Diego Padres.

For more information on how you can donate an auction item, sponsor a table, or attend, visit www.hdsa.org/hopegala2014 or contact Stephanie Alband by email at salband@HDSA.org or by phone at 619-225-2255.

HDSA Gala  2014

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Keeping in Touch

We all wish our marketing success could be guaranteed and efficient. Given the massive sales of the iPhone6 and iPhone6+, it seems these days all Apple has to do is “build it and they will come.”

The same goes for other recent product debuts such as the PlayStation4 and Xbox One. With built-in user communities, little traditional marketing was needed to inform prospective customers and build demand. The customers were already there for the taking.

For the rest of us, though, we need to rely on more tried and true methods, which brings me to the topic of exposing your product or service to target customers. Just how many times is enough? How can you ever be sure you’re reaching the right people the right number of times to ensure sales?

Marketing Truism #1 is that with marketing, you can never be sure. Marketing success is never guaranteed, not even when you think you’ve got a sure thing or the cleverest idea ever. For example, someone actually thought a “bucket list” themed marketing campaign for Malaysian Airlines was a good idea—this on the heels of the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 and the downing of Flight 17 over the Ukraine! Talk about bad timing and bad taste. And I bet Disney execs thought they were in for a blockbuster when Johnny Depp agreed to do ‘The Lone Ranger’ back in 2013. After all, for the past decade-plus Depp had been box office gold. Yet the movie became one of the biggest flops ever despite a high profile marketing campaign. Who knew?

That said, what can be guaranteed is that your product or service is likely to fail if people don’t hear about it . . . and then hear about it again (and again). Thus, Marketing Truism #2 is that while some people buy on impulse after minimal exposure, most take action only after repeated contacts.

I wrote a blog on the importance of these high value marketing “touches” a few years back. Here it is again. Enjoy!

In Search of the Perfect Marketing Touch

(Originally posted on May 9, 2012)

In my end-all, be-all of monkey sales dreams, the ideal transaction would go something like this:

  • I grow a great crop of bananas.
  • I tell my fellow monkeys how awesome the bananas taste and how good they are for them.
  • My monkey “prospects” then literally fight over who gets to buy the bananas and how many!

Oh, that it would be that easy—talk about King Monkey heaven!

BOM Marketing Touches

Of course, reality is never quite like our dreams (sometimes, thankfully so). Sure, some people will buy products or services impulsively the very first time they’re exposed to them, but a good many more will NEVER buy no matter how many times they hear about them and no matter how sweet or tantalizing the offer. Fortunately, reality lies somewhere in the middle . . . and that’s an important nugget for anyone with something to sell, whether it’s a bunch of bananas, a manufactured product, or a professional service: selling is a process that takes time and repeated exposure to convert prospects into leads and, ultimately, into customers.

In the parlance of marketing types, we call these repeated exposures “touches.” Generally speaking, the higher the price of your product or service, the more touches you need to make a sale. And depending on whose Marketing 101 course you took or which marketing guru’s cookbook you’re currently reading, successful sales can take anywhere from three to 12 touches (and according to my own experience, the experts are right).

What do I mean by “touch?”

Marketing touches can include exposing your prospects and leads to:

  • TV, radio, or print ads about your product or service
  • Your Web site, blog
  • Direct mail (letters, flyers, postcards)
  • Emails (sales pitches, newsletters)
  • Sales calls
  • Face-to-face interactions
  • Tradeshow displays and presentations
  • Seminars, workshops, etc.

In fact, any time you connect with your target audience and convey a message about your product or service is a “touch.” But not all touches are created equal. Touches inherently carry different weights or value. Which touch do you think is worth more—shaking hands and kissing babies, or an impersonal email sent to a bulk prospects list? Clearly, the more personal the touch, the greater its value.

Perhaps the most valuable touches are those that result from inbound traffic to your Web site, call center, or place of business. Why? Because when prospects contact YOU, they already have shown interest in your product or service. They are bona fide leads. Sometimes all that’s needed to “seal the deal” is a little personal interaction and attention.

Case in point: when Barrel O’ Monkeyz’ clients want to enhance their new business development capabilities, we look for ways to drive inbound traffic as a means to generate additional quality leads, optimize the value of touches, and convert sales.

New Ad for the iPhone 6 with no words or feature highlights!

Clearly, anyone who remains inclined to send out just one email or postcard and then sit back and hope for the sales numbers to climb needs to THINK AGAIN. Selling just doesn’t work that way. Selling is a process of moving someone along the continuum of being a prospect (a “possibility”) to a lead (a “likelihood”) to a customer.  And the way we do that is through high value touches.

Where are you in the selling continuum these days? Where have you had success? What have been your greatest challenges? Share your results here . . . interested monkeys want to know!

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HDSA “Celebration of HOPE Gala 2014” October 17

The Huntington’s Disease Society of America San Diego Chapter’s “Celebration of HOPE Gala 2014” is coming up on Friday, October 17, at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. This event features great food and drinks, dancing, an exciting live and silent auction, and talks from Steve Fisher, Head Coach, SDSU Men’s Basketball; Mike McCoy, Head Coach, San Diego Chargers; and Bud Black, Manager, San Diego Padres.

For more information on how you can donate an auction item, sponsor a table, or attend, visit www.hdsa.org/hopegala2014 or contact Stephanie Alband by email at salband@HDSA.org or by phone at 619-225-2255.

HDSA Gala  2014

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Lasting Impressions: Successful Brands Can’t Afford to Have Bad Days

Your brand is the sum of your actions, your words, how others experience you, and how they perceive you. This holds true whether you’re an individual (personal brand) or you represent an organization (company brand).

Your brand is your reputation. It sets expectations, and it’s based on first impressions and lasting impressions, whether those impressions are accurate or not.

BOM Brand Man

I was in a local retailer the other day. They have at least a dozen cash registers, presumably to handle times of peak volume. The time was 4:30 pm, and the mad dash home from work was on. The only problem was, only two registers were open, the lines were long, and a cadre of 4 or 5 manager types were pacing back and forth at the front of the store, looking concerned or agitated (I’m not quite sure), but doing nothing to alleviate the congestion and long waits. I could only wonder, “Certainly, they know how to run a register don’t they?” Meanwhile, there were a plethora of “Now accepting applications” signs posted at every register, those open and those closed.

What was my impression?

It wasn’t good.

  • At best, having only two registers open during the late afternoon rush made me think, “poor planning,” and “Who’s running this place?”
  • At worst, I could only feel that the store was operating in “too big to fail” mode and simply didn’t care if customers were inconvenienced by long waits.
  • As for the cadre of managers patrolling the front of the store, looking stressed but not lifting a finger to help (as far as I could tell), again it gave me the feeling they simply didn’t care about me and my time, and what they really cared most about was leaving the register work to the cashiers while they did . . . well whatever it is they were doing!
  • At first, the “accepting applications” signs made me think, “Well good, they are understaffed and clearly trying to do something about it,” but as the minutes ticked by and no additional registers opened and customers started to complain to the cashiers, it got me to thinking the signs were more indicative of high turnover and this retailer’s inability to retain front-end staff. (After all, cashiers are the ones that typically bear the brunt of customer complaints in these situations. It can’t be fun for them!)

Now I may have misread the situation entirely. There could have been some very good reasons for the lack of open registers. Maybe there was a technical glitch preventing other lanes from opening. Maybe a cashier or two was out sick, or had to leave for an emergency, throwing the afternoon staffing plan into disarray. Maybe the manager types at the front were not trained on the registers—or maybe they weren’t managers at all, but simply observers of some sort. And maybe the “accepting applications” signs represented a sincere effort to boost staffing in the face of a retail/consumer goods economy that, for whatever reason, seems determined to slog along at a snail’s pace.

Maybe. I’m not sure. But you know what? Even if I misread the situation 100% wrong it doesn’t matter. What matters is the lasting impression I came away with. That’s what matters most, and that’s what shapes this company’s brand in my mind and undoubtedly many others.

Is my assessment fair? The store might have just been having a bad day. It happens. We all have bad days, but it just so happens this “bad day” took place when about 30 or 40 other customers all decided to stop in to make purchases at the same time.

Successful brands really can’t afford to have bad days—and if they do, they need to be able to point to past successes as a way to reassure customers the bad day was nothing more than a fluke. In this case, this retailer could not do this—at least not with me—because on two previous visits over the last month and a half, I had similar experiences. (So you see, my “brand senses” were already tingling when I arrived.)

Would I have a positive experience, as I had typically encountered with this company until only recently, and thereby negate my growing bad impressions? Or would the trend continue, reinforcing my growing negative perceptions?

You know the answer . . . and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one there who left with a bad taste in his (or her) mouth.

TED Talks: 3 Ways to (Usefully) Lose Control of Your Brand

Of course, there are lots of retailers who do things right and I have had good experiences with them. Albertsons, Costco, REI, and Best Buy are a few that come to mind. You see, just because you are big does not mean you can’t get your hands dirty and complete the positive customer experience.

So how could this particular retailer have alleviated the situation?

Absent the most obvious solution of simply staffing up for one of the busiest times of day, one or more of the managers could have pitched in, representing an “all hands on deck” sort of mentality, which would have left me thinking they really cared. Just two more open registers would have been effective thinning out the lines. If that was not possible, then the common courtesy of an overhead announcement showing empathy for the long customer waits or explaining there was a technical glitch for the lack of open registers—something!—would have eased my mind.

Your brand is your most important asset. For many companies, especially in the service industry, it’s all they have.

  • How is your brand perceived by consumers? Have you ever asked them, or do you just assume you know what they’re thinking?
  • Who is your target customer and what are they looking to get from you?
  • What is your brand promise? What is the product, service, or solution only you can deliver . . . and what are you doing to make your customers believe you can deliver it?
  • What is your brand archetype—the image consumers have of you brand when they hear, see, or read about it? What image would you like them to have?
  • What is your brand personality? What words best describe your brand, and which words will capture the minds and emotions of your target customers?

Successful brands connect with their customers in positive ways on both good days and bad. This connection is what forms the basis for the story of their brand, and we all like stories with happy endings. If you’re brand is underperforming, perhaps it’s because the brand you “think” you have or need, isn’t aligned with the brand the public actually perceives.

How do you reinforce the story of your brand every day?

Share your experiences here (and if you care to guess who my recent experience was with, leave a comment and I just might reveal their identity!)

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Cause and Effect

I was in a local big box store over the weekend. There in the seasonal aisle section what did I see? There were Halloween decorations, costumes, and candy by the bagful . . . and amazingly there were also lots and lots of Christmas decorations, ranging from lighted trees to bows and ribbons.

Really, in September?

My guess is retailers are trying to get a jump on the Holiday shopping season. This is, after all, their biggest shopping “bonanza” of the year.

K-Mart’s New “Not Christmas” Commercial

This got me to thinking that if retailers can get a jump on the commercial side of the Holiday season, why can’t we/they also be thinking about service and making a difference in our communities in ways other than going after the almighty dollar? In other words, what causes can businesses—large, small, entrepreneurs—and even individuals support?

About 18 months ago, I wrote a blog about how cause marketing allows businesses to “do good” while also doing themselves some good, and I want to share it again with you below. It’s only mid-September. There’s still plenty of time for you to adopt a cause and do some good for you, your customers, and a local group, charity, or non-profit.

One such cause near and dear to my heart is the Huntington’s Disease Society of America San Diego Chapter’s “Celebration of HOPE Gala 2014” coming up on Friday, October 17, at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. This event features great food and drinks, dancing, an exciting live and silent auction, and talks from Steve Fisher, Head Coach, SDSU Men’s Basketball; Mike Mccoy, Head Coach, San Diego Chargers; and Bud Black, Manager, San Diego Padres. (For more info, visit www.hdsa.org/hopegala2014 or contact Stephanie Alband at salband@HDSA.org or 619-225-2255.)

BOM-Cause-MarketingA Good Cause: Not Just for Philanthropists Anymore

(Originally posted on January 9, 2013)

These days, as consumers, we expect the businesses we frequent to be concerned with more than just their bottom lines. Sure, we still demand top quality products and services, but merely satisfying our demand for materials, things, and know-how just doesn’t cut it anymore. Businesses need to stand for something, preferably something bigger than just their bottom lines. We expect the businesses we patronize to support causes near and dear to our hearts.

That’s where cause marketing (or cause-related marketing) comes in, and it can be an important part of your marketing tool kit whether you operate a big business or a small one.

Cause marketing differs from philanthropy, which is essentially giving money or time to an organization and expecting nothing in return (other than maybe a tax write-off). While the general idea with cause marketing remains to “do good” for unselfish reasons, its real power comes from how everyone involved truly benefits:

  • Cause marketing is a win for the group, charity, or non-profit involved because it gets an influx of much needed money, materials, manpower, and community awareness.
  • It’s a win for those who benefit from the organization/charity’s good work, such as gaining better access to necessary products, services, supplies, shelter, capital, or expertise.
  • It’s a win for participating businesses that extends far beyond their simply “feeling good” about what they’re doing. Cause-related marketing that’s linked to a company’s overall marketing efforts helps them benefit through increased awareness, stronger community ties, improved staff and team cohesion, higher employee morale, and greater brand loyalty.

Cause marketing also help businesses win new customers and attract new employees. Studies show that the vast majority of consumers will switch brands, all other things being equal, if the brand they are considering switching to supports a cause more aligned with their values. Similarly, socially responsible companies tend to be the destination of choice for prospective employees.

One of the most recent and successful examples of cause-related marketing is the “Movember Foundation,” which involves men being sponsored to grow their mustaches for 30 days during November. Designed to raise awareness of prostate cancer and other male cancers, a whole “culture” has sprouted up around the annual “Movember” event, with participants affectionately known as “Mo-Bros” and their female supporters “Mo-Sistas.” It’s great fun and great name recognition for businesses and individuals involved, plus it generates lots of donations and awareness—case in point: in 2011 alone, some 850,000 Movember participants raised in excess of $125 million dollars worldwide!

Mark Addicks, SVP and Chief Marketing Officer at General Mills,
talks about connecting consumers to cause marketing.

Of course, cause marketing does not need to have global reach to be effective or worthwhile. Look to your own backyard. Chances are you’ll find plenty of local groups and organizations ripe for a partner willing to help them raise awareness and donations. Just think of all your community nonprofits, from youth services, church groups, health care organizations, and other charities. Chances are any and all are hungry for attention from the local business community, whether it’s in the form of monetary contributions, donations of materials, or simply having additional “warm bodies” to help out during especially high times of demand for their services (such as over the holidays or in winter months).

Many successful cause-marketing efforts take advantage of the reach of the Internet, notably efforts like “Movember” and online sales/auctions where sellers donate percentages of their proceeds to certain charities and organizations. Add the power of social media—from Facebook and Twitter, to LinkedIn and a host of others—and spreading the word about a particular cause has gotten easier and a whole lot more effective in recent years.

Of course, choosing the right cause for your business and your marketplace can be a challenge. Start by asking yourself if a particular cause aligns with your values. Now ask if the cause aligns with the values of your clients/customers and how they have come to view your company (and don’t forget to consider your employees). Choose your cause unwisely and you may do your business more harm than good.

Here are some examples of effective “community-based” cause-marketing approaches that can be scaled big or small:

  • Organize ways community members can donate to charities at the supermarket checkout (such as for schools and youth programs).
  • Donate proceeds from the sales of your products to designated charities.
  • Join others in helping to increase public awareness for heart disease, HIV/AIDS, breast cancer, and other causes by donating time, staff, money, and resources.
  • Engage in local partnerships and volunteerism with charitable groups and organizations.
  • Sponsor a local team, league, or event and encourage your staff to participate.

Do you know what causes are important to your clients and prospects? How might you support these causes, either through donations of money, your time, or both?

Share your ideas (and your results) here.

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